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<nettime> The Precariat and Climate Justice
Alex Foti on Wed, 4 Nov 2009 22:14:39 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> The Precariat and Climate Justice


For the "Anarchy, Autonomy, Ecology" table and for footnotes (some on
marxian theory of value) please read complete version here:

http://www.greatrecession.info/2009/11/03/the-precarious-question-and-the-climate-struggle/


The Precarious Question and the Climate Struggle
Fighting for Social and Ecological Justice. Because Climate Change
Makes All of Us Precarious.

Alex Foti


Precarity in the Great Recession

The Great Recession is making millions of precarious workers
unemployed. Millions of precarious youth, women, immigrants are being
made redundant. The crisis is swelling the ranks of the precariat, the
new class created by neoliberalism which is the sum of those who are
either unemployed or working under non-standard, temporary, part-time
contracts in service, creative, knowledge industries. Those
responsible for the crisis -- big banks, investment funds, free-market
economists and governments -- whitewash and greenwash without shame
hoping to go on with business as usual. Governments are giving
trillions to the bankers and peanuts to the precarious. Riots and
protests are spreading as a result, also resisting rising
securitarianism and racism, but the fight against political and
economic power to defend society and nature has just begun.

This historic crisis parallels the Great Depression in scope, if not
in depth (extraordinary monetary expansion has so far cushioned the
blow of the financial crisis), and will have similarly far-reaching
socioeconomic and political consequences. From the ashes of early 20th
century free-market liberalism, the Fordist-Keynesian mode of
regulation emerged, ensuring working-class economic inclusion into
mass consumerism via high wages and social integration via extensive
welfare-state provisions. From the ashes of early 21st century
free-market liberalism, a new form of social and political regulation
of the economy will have to emerge if the crisis is to find a
democratic solution. In fact, just like in the interwar period,
especially in Europe, the danger of authoritarian and xenophobic
solutions to the Big Crisis is significant.

Today's crisis marks the end of Neoliberal-Hayekian regulation, as
imposed over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, thanks to the seminal
political work done by Reagan, Thatcher, Deng, Pinochet in the two
hemispheres. But this once-in-a-century crisis occurs in the scary
geoclimatic setting of Anthropocene, the man-made geological age
triggered by the extremely rapid burning of fossil fuels in order to
feed capital accumulation. The climate crisis is becoming
frighteningly apparent, from polar caps to river deltas, from
temperate plains to tropical forests. Millions of species are dying,
millions of people are being displaced by droughts and floods. From
the likes of Gore and Stern it's hard to expect a veritable solution
to the causes of climate change, since this would mean to confront the
major carbon emitters, such as energy conglomerates, manufacturing
corporations and their logistics, the aviation industry, fast food and
agribusiness, mass tourism, in essence to shelve global, free-trade
capitalism as we have known it since the Fall of the Wall. Turned
liberals, most greens today just lack the political teeth needed to
confront squarely corporate capitalism for its double responsibility
in the economic and ecological crises. If anything, they are for green
capitalism. So it falls onto the anarchists, feminists, precarious,
immigrants, on those radical actors that have a stake in subverting
the present financial order, to fight for real climate justice, to
bring the economy back under the control of polities and communities,
so that bioregional and atmospheric balances and constraints are
respected.

The Great Recession, just like the Great Depression three generations
ago, is a major demand crisis leading to mass unemployment and
underemployment. It won't be solved until the collective fruits of
social productivity finally accrue to the employed and unemployed
instead of managers and financiers. This requires massive fiscal
redistribution from the tiny Ãlites to the precarious multitudes. Free
public health and education, basic income and leisure expansion, green
jobs and new labor and property laws are the first-aid tools to
address the crisis and ferry us toward a postcapitalist society, where
corporations and investment banks are dismantled, credit is
socialized, copyright is abolished, culture and knowledge are freely
shared, the global economy is regionalized, food distribution networks
are localized, energy production is decentralized, and political power
is federalized, in regional and transnational federations of
autonomous cities and liberated lands.

The issue of the distribution of productivity is crucial. The
structural cause of the Great Recession lies in the failure of
neoliberalism to distribute the productivity growth afforded by the
digital revolution to large strata of society, who then had to take on
debt to finance consumption of the new informational goods and
services. Green capitalism wants to solve the economic crisis via
green jobs and a new welfare system, but it will succeed in its task,
only if it manages to widely redistribute what Negri and Hardt call
"common wealth" i.e. the backlog of collective inventions, creations,
relations and desires presently appropriated by Gates, Murdoch,
Berlusconi, and the like.

The debate is open among leftists about whether green capitalism is
economically sustainable (possibly so), and if so, if will lead to
ecological sustainability (hardly so). Ecomarxists, for whom the labor
theory of value is dogma, believe that the ecological crisis entails a
squeeze in the rate of surplus value and thus a tendency for the rate
of profit to fall*. Empirically, if productivity declines because of
the ecological crisis, due to increases in the cost of energy or to
the internalization (inclusion in the business cost of products and
services) of the environmental damages caused by the economic process,
then ecomarxists are right and green capitalism is unsustainable due
to falling profits. If, conversely the ecological crisis triggers a
green technological revolution, the rate of profit can stay equal as
wages rise, so that green capitalism can create its own demand. In
simpler words, if green capitalism is just greenwashing, i.e.
marketing hype unsupported by hard facts, ultimately the ecological
crisis will end up endangering capitalist accumulation leading to the
the common ruin of today's contending social classes: the global Ãlite
and the transnational precariat. If, on the other hand, green
capitalism is the harbinger of a fourth industrial revolution (first:
steam and textiles; second: electricity, steel, chemicals; third:
electronics, networking; fourth: genomics, greenomics), productivity
will rise and this would create a favorable context for victories on
wages and labor conditions, as well as ease political resistance to
income redistribution via progressive taxation (when taxes hit the
rich proportionally more than the poor; under neoliberalism taxation
has instead been regressive). Another way of looking at this is to
consider the fact that the price of a good is equal to the wage rate
divided by productivity (production per hour worked) multiplied by one
plus the rate of profit, the margin that rewards the entrepreneur and
pays interest to the banker. At constant prices, if productivity
increases because of a rise in energy efficiency, either the wage rate
rises or the rate of profit must increase, or a combination of the two
factorsÂ.

Contrary to what Marx predicted, improvements in wages and living
standards have been made possible under capitalism thanks to the
combination of much-sweated technological innovation and hard-fought
social redistribution. Have these improvements come at the cost of
bankrupting the biosphere? It will end up like that if social
resistance to capitalism is not strong enough to decarbonize the
economy. In other words, if climate anarchists lose the incipient
struggle with green capitalists. If movements lose the fight for
climate justice, Earth might become like Venus. From the experience of
the poor and precarious of New Orleans, we know the horrors that lie
in store when climate disaster strikes a class-polarized urban
society. The climate question conceals a social question, because the
precarious stand to lose the most in the biocrisis. On the other hand,
precarious need to be empowered to be effective antagonists to global
financial Ãlites; only if they secure income and leisure, they can
have the freedom to erect the postcapitalist society.
Precarious-to-precarious community solutions to urban habitats,
energy, food production and social housing will have to become
increasingly common as answers to unemployment and environmental
crisis. Whole cities can be redesigned by expanding self-organized
groups of precarious ecohacktivists living from their collective labor
and the sharing of what's produced and exchanged in their social
networks.

If climate justice movements lose the battle that is taking tens of
thousands to Copenhagen in December and thus fail to impose their
collective will onto government and corporate technocrats, then by the
middle of this century most of us will be either drowned or toasted.
What's at stake is neither the survival of capitalism nor
industrialism, but of digital civilization and the promise of the
universal access to information, knowledge and culture that the switch
to postindustrialism has made possible.

Industrialism, informationalism, green capitalism

Green capitalism cannot be simply liquidated as a marketing ploy. It
embodies the faction of the global bourgeoisie that understands the
reality of climate change and of its own declining political
legitimacy in the face of the banking crisis and the consequent end of
neoliberal/monetarist hegemony. Capital does seek now to be submitted
to a light top-down, as opposed to bottom-up, form of regulation,
which, while warranting the survival of megabanks and
megacorporations, tries to accommodate ecological imperatives and
social needs. Fossil capitalism, on the other hand, is purely
reactionary. It has long denied the existence of man-made planetary
heating and it is now lobbying to seize upon the spaces opened by
geopolitical (Iraq, Sudan etc become up for grabs) and ecological (the
North-East and North-West passages are open) disasters. It has spawned
the growth of an oil-military complex that is the biggest threat to
the peace and welfare of humankind. The open defeat of Bushism by
Obama's civil society (young, women, Blacks, Latinos, churches,
unions, community movements) signals the decline of petromilitarism
and the rise of green capitalismï. The new US administration is a
definitely a friend of global capitalism and to ensure its viability
is putting forward a set of policies amounting to eco-keynesian
regulation lite, to salvage whatâs left of the hegemony of US banks
and corporations over the world economy. Obamaâs economic policy is
keynesian because it provides a demand stimulus via deficit spending:
in a deep recession, banks are not lending, firms are not investing,
consumers are not spending, so the state must step in to provide
spending power and capital for investment. But it is eco- in the sense
it provides incentives to augment energy efficiency of the economy and
de-carbonize part of its power production.

Original Fordist keynesianism was incredibly wasteful in energy terms.
Oil was made so cheap and consumer goods so abundant that the
biosphere was trashed in the short space of three decades (1945-1975).
The Soviet bloc, placing an increasingly oblolescent emphasis on heavy
industry and lacking societal counterbalances to communist policies of
industrial might, was proportionally more wasteful, producing a larger
share of nuclear and environmental disasters. In their ideological
competition, both the US and the USSR strove to empower their working
classes as loyal citizens, producers and consumers. Industrialism was
their common structural base. However, it will be wrong to look at the
present ecological crisis as the crisis of "industrial society". In
fact, over the last three decades, informationalism has replaced
industrialism as the dominant system of accumulation. Indeed the
failure of command economies to perform the transition from
industrialism to informationalism, from the electrical engine to the
electronic chip, is viewed by contemporary sociology as the structural
reason behind the implosion of the Soviet Union. Now the inherited
neoliberal form of informational capitalism is morphing into green
capitalism. The evidence for this is mounting: from Silicon Valley
becoming a hotbed for solar to green sectors soon surpassing aerospace
and defense in economic weight, according to a recent study made by
the international bank HSBC.  Industrialism is dependent on oil, coal
and other hydrocarbons in a way that informationalism is not. Steel
needs coal, the Net doesnât. The problem with green capitalism is that
the scale effect is likely to more than offset any improvements in
energy intensity, so that emissions continue rise. Left to its own
instincts, green capitalism would be ecologically unsustainable. A
steady-state market economy can only come into being through extreme
regulation from below and above.

Yet, economic growth only has a meaning if measured in money terms,
not in physical terms. So, in principle a socially regulated form of
capitalism can be envisaged that still grows in dollar terms (and this
overcomes the economic crisis), but not in entropic terms. A stage of
the economy where immaterial growth becomes the norm, along with the
maximization of collective knowledge and social well-being, rather
than corporate profit or private wealth. An economy where people
mostly exchange immaterial services rather than material goods. In
other words, a world where there's money to be made in the economy,
because informational as well as green jobs are available in large and
increasing numbers. The question of growth must be reconsidered, and
is in fact being reconsidered by economists and politicians in the
light of the crisis: GDP will be soon replaced by alternative
indicator of economic performance and socio-environmental progress.

Today, the dÃcroissance approach is likely to fall on deaf ears,
because it preaches parsimony to a population which is being
precarized by the global recession. Climate justice is definitely a
stronger rallying cry for all the forces resisting capitalist
domination today, one that already resonates from North to South. If
the overdeveloped North must certainly decrease material consumption,
the recovery from the crisis can only occur if there's more effective
demand in euro, dollar, yuan terms in the hands of those with less
money in their pockets and thus likely to spend it when given the
opportunity: the poor, women, precarious and/or immigrant youth.
Social regulation must ensure that this extra money is not spent at
the mall but in ways that are thermodynamically sound: into
sustainable mobility, local agricultural produce, reforestation, and
renewable energy deployment, for example. Social spending must be used
to strengthen the social networks of solidarity within and across
generations and lands. The precarious strata and the informal,
marginal sectors of society are the ones that stand to benefit the
most from fiscal redistribution. Only generalized conflict can
emancipate the precarious and lead to sharp increases in social
spending.

Like the wobblies a century ago, the precarious must organize across
genders and ethnic groups to create their own unions and fight for a
much larger slice of the pie. If the pie's shrinking like Latouche
wants, as people save more and consume less, many more will be made
jobless and the precariat is gonna end up in an even more precarious
condition than under neoliberalism. It's true that capitalism is
addicted to growth, but this is monetary growth, not necessarily an
increase in the amount of "stuff" produced.

The distinction between bounded material growth and unbounded
immaterial growth is useful to conceive a social scenario that is
postcapitalist and progressive. Politically, this would also be a
society where the different aims of anarchosyndicalists (constructing
a postcapitalist egalitarian commonwealth) and anarchogreens (creating
a thermodynamicist society of peers on a biodiverse planet) can be
reconciled. It's a social scenario where the autonomous, pirate, queer
practices of the immaterial precariat are able to defeat the political
offensive of green capitalism and drive the transition toward
postcapitalism, an economy meeting ecological and social targets where
grassroots experimentation is encouraged and regulation is horizontal
and bottom-up, rather than vertical and top-down. To address both the
economic and ecological crisis in my view we would have to push for a
service, relational, commons-based peer-production economy, whose aim
is the growth in knowledge, leisure and culture as opposed to the
growth of goods and material wealth. This would be a society based on
ecological remediation, immaterial accumulation and the maximization
of happiness among its participants, rather than on material opulence
for a minority of people.

Synopsis so far: we have an economic and ecological crisis of
capitalism where class and climate struggles become central. The
social actors of class struggle are new, since capitalism is no longer
industrial, but has become informational. They are the precarious,
those whose rights and talents have been immolated on the altar of
labor flexibility and financial profit. The precarious in the
informational economy must embrace the climate question, because the
solidaristic postcapitalist welfare society they demand can only be
achieved if the ecological struggle fought by the climate anarchists
is won. Since the precariat is the new anticapitalist social subject,
radical ecology shall become its ideology.

Anarchist movements and postcapitalism

The death of communism two decades ago and the birth of the
antiglobalization movement a decade ago have brought anarchism to the
fore as the only plausible anticapitalist ideology, online and
offline. But what's anarchism today? Or more interestingly, who are
the anarchists? I think they mainly come in three types:
anarchogreens, anarchosyndicalists and anarchoautonomists. One could
add the anarchoinsurrectionists, but Julien Coupat in theory and the
Greek rebellion in practice have created a new hybrid category, dubbed
anarcho-autonomie in France, which is highlighted by the insurgent,
antiauthoritarian practices spreading across the dissident/immigrant
youth of Europe and North America. Increasingly, the Italian and
German traditions of autonomia are intertwined with anarchist,
antifascist and antiracist strands to form an anarchoautonomist
synthesis across Europe. A generation totally oblivious of 20th
century ideological disputes does not distinguish between anarchist
and autonomous resistance: on the barricades, all you see is black
hoodies fighting state repression and corporate domination. The
comparative table below portrays the three major anticapitalist
tendencies at work today, and the spectrum of resources for conflict
they offer to the disaffected youth of the metropolises of the planet.
It will be interesting to see how the various discourses of
anticapitalism and radical ecology will mesh into direct action
between December 11 and 16 during the COP15 Climate Summit targeting
fossil capitalism, policed borders, agribusiness, indigenous peoplesâ
sovereignty, and the very legitimacy and effectiveness of the
conference itself.

Anarchy, Autonomy, Ecology: A Trinity for Anarchists?
	Anarchogreen	Anarchosyndicalist	Anarchoautonomist

Aim	Defend Earth	Subvert Economy	Smash State

Issue	climate change
	social inequality	political domination
Ideology	radical ecology	revolutionary unionism
	autonomous marxism
Direct Action	ecotage
	wildcat strike	urban riot
Actors	ecohacktivists, vegans, animalists, indigenous
peoples	precarious/migrant workers, landless, unemployed	p2p
multitude, immaterial labor, multiethnic underclass
Movements
 (examples)	Earth First!, Climate Camp, KlimaX, MCJ	IWA-AIT, SUF, CNT,
euromayday	Dissent, Indymedia, No Border, Antifa networks

It's vital for anarchist and libertarian tendencies to look out to the
wider world, while keeping themselves open to the queer and creative
influences coming from contemporary society and popular culture.
Ideological purity and historical fidelity are usually obstacles to
political effectiveness. What's important is not showing our lack of
complicity in the self-destruction of human civilization, but to
prevent it. The fight is not to return to pre-industrial nature,
whatever it was, but foster a postcapitalist natural environment,
where ecosystems, water, trees and bees are the most precious forms of
common wealth.

The solution to the precarious question is not going to be found in
the return to the old speculative, overindebted, overdeveloped,
ecocidal, supremely unequal consumer economy of yore, but in the fight
for a new economic and welfare system built around the environmentâs
priorities and the social needs of the precarious sectors of society.
Redistribution can be achieved thanks to massive strike movements and
via capital, corporate and carbon taxation to pay for universal health
and education, basic income for all adults and finance a reduction in
worktime such as the 4-day week, provide everybody with free access to
online knowledge, supply economic incentives for commons-based peer
production and sharing, subsidize green housing and green job creation
for all unemployed wishing to work, socialize banking to fund
renewable energy and sustainable living community projects, promote
urban and labor rights of solidarity striking, self-organization and
self-unionization, and most of all end the scandalous discrimination
and persecution of immigrants and asylum-seekers. The politics of the
common and the struggle around commons -- and especially of the most
precious common of all, the atmosphere -- cannot but start from the
collective defense and expansion of our own urban commons: squats,
social centers, radical associations, alternative theaters,
self-managed parks and gardens etc. Social cooperation needs to find
its own organizational resources and political strategies to prevail
over capitalist enclosures of immaterial assets and privatizations of
social space.

Redistribution of wealth and power toward the precarious, growth of
immaterial knowledge, cultural enrichment of society and massive
expansion of leisure are fundamental social preconditions for the
horizontal eco-social design of a resilient postcapitalist society,
freeing the time to pursue ecohacktive and permacultural activities,
giving the time and money back to precarized people to work for
environmental remediation and think collectively about their own
future, cutting the need for quick consumption and instant
satisfaction. A strongly relational and solidaristic economy would
fulfill many of the needs today obviated by individualized market
transactions. The multigendered and multiethnic precariat can be the
social driver for local low-carbon economies of cooperation, exchange
and mutual aid, food and energy production, just as the immaterial
precariat has so far been the core constituency of the climate camp
movement. After all, in a networked information economy, it's the
anarchists not the capitalists that control the strategic means of
production -- the computing power of connected PCs -- enabling the
distributed elaboration and production of information, culture and
knowledge through networks which is making the age of mass media
obsolete. Immaterial labor puts a new, non-market and non-proprietary
sector at the center of wealth creation. But capitalist domination
strongly resists the encroachment of p2p cooperation on its hitherto
unchallenged prerogatives (directing production and marketing
innovation) and has parliaments and tribunals squarely on its side
striking at the growing commonalism of the precarious class.

To conclude, capitalism destroys environments as it precarizes
peoples. The climate anarchists of the world and the precarious of
europe must come together in Copenhagen to unmask Barroso's and
Obama's carbon trading and government bailouts for the rich. We must
fight for that money to go to social transfers, green jobs and
renewable energy instead, 'cos the Recession don't do discounts and
the Earth won't do bailouts.


Bibliositography

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September-October, 2009
David Balleby RÃnbach, "Green jobs are blowing in the wind",
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between Bookchin and Foreman, South End Press, 1991
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of Chicago Press, 2008
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(various editions)
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Le Monde, May 25, 2009 (he was released soon afterwards)
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